In my early twenties, I was a school teacher and Pilates instructor, and on top of my jobs, I was used to running five miles (8km) almost every day. But slowly, I became so exhausted that I could barely get out of bed to go to work.
I couldn’t figure out why I had no energy, but I noticed myself becoming a different person. On top of my depleted energy, I had constipation so bad that at one point, I couldn’t go for two weeks.
In 2012, when I was 25, I went to my doctor, who told me I had Hashimoto’s disease, a disorder in which the immune system attacks the thyroid. This led to hypothyroidism – my thyroid wasn’t producing enough thyroid hormone – and my doctor said this was the cause of my fatigue.
I began taking hormones every day to replace those that my body wasn’t producing, as well as laxatives for my constipation. Still, my energy levels didn’t change much. I was still tired all the time and, for me, the prescription medications felt more like Band-Aids than solutions.
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Even after two years of treatment, I still felt so exhausted that I had to resign from my teaching job. I knew I had to do something to bring back my energetic self.
‘I was willing to try anything.’
In 2014, I was sitting down at a wedding reception when a friend who practices functional medicine came up to me. It was a few months after I’d resigned from my job, and she could tell something was wrong. “What’s going on with you?” she asked. I told her about my autoimmune disorder and how the hormones just weren’t helping me.
“No grains, legumes, refined sugar or dairy,” she replied. “Try it.”
This type of diet isn’t a conventional approach to hypothyroidism. (So far, evidence of a gluten-free diet improving thyroid function is mostly anecdotal, although some women do swear by it to help their symptoms.)
Making such a big change probably seems drastic to some. But at that point, after years of feeling exhausted and sick, I was willing to try just about anything to get my energy back and feel better about myself.
I had always loved eating fruits, veggies and proteins anyways. But baking – that was something I couldn’t live without. It was my love language. I baked cookies for my brother and his friends after school when we were kids, and I baked banana bread for my now-husband for our second date. We made that same banana bread for each guest at our wedding.
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I was a baker at heart, and I felt like my only choices were giving it up or baking without being able to try a single bite. So as I went into the diet, I was determined to find a way to keep baking in my life.
‘My new diet was surprisingly easy.’
It was probably less than a week into my new diet when I was craving something sweet. I knew I couldn’t keep myself from baking long, but I didn’t want to totally blow my new eating habits. So I challenged myself to bake without any of the ingredients I had eliminated from my diet.
After tons of trial-and-error, I found the five perfect ingredients that I could use to bake just about anything from cakes to cookies to brownies and, of course, banana bread:
Himalayan pink salt
I was thrilled. I could have my cake (literally!) and my new-and-improved diet, too.
When it came to my day-to-day eating, I found easy ways to replace the ingredients I had cut out.
For breakfast, I started eating a few eggs and veggies or a cup of decaf coffee blended with coconut cream and a collagen protein supplement.
For lunch, I’ll have what I call a “loaded salad,” which I pack with protein like chicken, eggs or fish mixed with green veggies like kale and Brussels sprouts.
For dinner, I’d eat more veggies, which I love to roast, and another protein. I learnt to make sweet-potato fries as a healthy alternative to French fries and spaghetti squash when I’m in the mood for something pasta-like. I figured out ways to make lasagna and Bolognese without grains or gluten, too.
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When I got hungry between meals (which surprisingly didn’t happen often!), I ate 100% cacao or dehydrated coconut pieces, which I call “coconut jerky”. (It’s really good, I promise.)
At the beginning of each week, I roasted a big batch of vegetables and sweet potatoes. That way, I knew I’d have something easy and healthy to grab when my days got busy.
‘I took my baking to a whole new level.’
This may sound crazy, but the diet change was much easier – and more fun – than I thought it would be. My husband and I decided to stop buying any groceries with refined sugar, grains, legumes and dairy. Instead we bought more proteins, fruits, vegetables and good fats, like avocados.
It was life-changing to realise that I didn’t have to give up my passion for baking (and, of course, tasting). After I made a chocolate cake for my friend, Claire Thomas, using those five ingredients, her response was “I’m sorry, what?” She couldn’t believe how great it tasted, and she challenged me to start selling my cakes.
Soon after that, and just three months after I started my new diet, Claire and I founded Sweet Laurel, our brand and bakery, together. What started as an Instagram account became a company from my kitchen, where I baked using those five ingredients and delivered them myself.
They started selling like wildfire, and we’re set to open a brick-and-mortar bake shop this year. I’ll never get tired of reactions from my friends, family and customers when they learn that the dessert they’ve just tasted is completely free of gluten, grains and refined sugar.
The power of a partnership! Sweet Laurel was founded by friends and in the formative years of our friendship, @kitchykitchen and I did things like bake bread and take gardening classes. When Claire saw Hashimoto’s Disease take a ravaging toll on my body, and then the healing that took place through my diet and lifestyle change, she knew there was something good going on. One day I brought a cake over to her house (The Cake that Changed Everything, pg. 167), and she was like “I’m sorry, what? This delicious cake is made with almond flour, coconut oil, cacao, 100% maple syrup. organic eggs and Himalayan pink salt?” The deliciousness was so extreme, she challenged me to take my baking a step further and now SWEET LAUREL is available for all, through our cookbook, recipes and cake (which ships nationally) and our desire to share the goodness with as many people as possible. Claire, thank you for being a friend who was not afraid to challenge me, and a partner who makes this brand so beautiful through your creative direction and stunning food photography and styling. #sweetlaurelbakery #sweetlaurelcookbook #glutenfreebaking #powerofpartnership #friend #businesspartner #baking #hashimotosdisease #grainfree #refinedsugarfree #dairyfree
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‘Within a few months, I had more energy than ever.’
I felt better than I ever thought I could and getting to share my baked goods with the world has really inspired me to stick with my new diet. Claire and I even wrote a cookbook, Sweet Laurel: Recipes for Whole Food, Grain-Free Desserts, to share some of my recipes and show other people how they can change their diets without sacrificing their favourite treats.
Knowing that everyone, dietary restrictions or not, can have cake on their birthday is all I need to keep going.
‘I’m never looking back.’
I’m back to exercising regularly, practicing yoga and taking power-walks with my husband. We stay busy with our son, Nico, who just celebrated his first birthday with a grain-free, refined-sugar-free cake. Honestly, I’ve never felt better.
In addition to my increased energy, my autoimmune disease is in remission. Before my diet change, when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, my blood test showed antibodies against thyroid peroxidase, which aids in the production of the thyroid hormone. Recently, my blood tested negative for those antibodies, which means my thyroid can function normally. I can’t necessarily say that my diet was the cure, but I believe it has helped my symptoms a lot – and I’m never looking back.
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‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’
For those looking to cut gluten – or any other ingredient – out of their diets, my advice is simple: Plan ahead. I keep tons of healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack options at home, ready to easily prepare or grab and go.
Before going out to eat, I always find the restaurant’s menu online to see if I can eat something there. If I can’t find anything on the menu, I eat before I go. If I go to potlucks or dinner at friends’ houses, I bring a big bowl of something I can eat that I know everyone will enjoy. I don’t have to miss out on good times with friends and family just because I’ve eliminated a few foods.
Always remember, when there’s a will, there’s a way. There are tons of options on the market that are free of gluten, dairy and sugar. And if you can’t find something you love, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty in the kitchen – or in my case, the bakery.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com
Image credit: Supplied